December 6, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Honoring the self

By |2018-12-28T14:45:09+01:00December 24th, 2018|"Scarlet Says"|
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"

ast year, a guy swept me off my feet. We met, immediately started dating, and I fell in love. Being mature adults who valued commitment, we seriously—or so it seemed at the time– discussed marriage. I truly believed we were going to get married in the near future. One day he took me to look at engagement rings, which I tried on with excitement and trepidation. I could hardly believe that this was finally happening. I’m an independent and intellectually curious woman who has always pursued my academic and professional dreams. Another dream was to get married and have a family. Life has thrown a few challenging experiences my way, as it does to everyone, and they made pursuing a relationship a tough thing in my younger years (as if it weren’t a difficult undertaking at any age).

With this guy, things seemed to be changing for the better. We enjoyed each other’s company, put up with each other’s faults, and we felt like we had so much in common that it was meant to be. Introvert that I am, I felt my capacity to love growing and changing me, allowing so much more of myself to be expressed. My empathy skills increased exponentially.

Until one day I found out he was lying.

One day he took me to look at engagement rings, which I tried on with excitement and trepidation. I could hardly believe that this was finally happening.

I thought it was just one lie about one thing, and that maybe it wasn’t significant. Maybe I could be understanding about it. After all, we clicked so well. So, I stuck with him to work it out. But soon, though we continued to text and talk on the phone, we took a break from seeing each other in person. In fact, he had lied about more than just one thing. He needed a lot of help. I hadn’t given up on him — in fact, I thought about him every day. I wanted to help him, but I didn’t know how. It seemed like he’d be better off with some time and space to figure things out, perhaps with professional help.

Time passed, and one day we finally saw each other again. Things seemed different. He seemed to regret his lies. He appeared to be getting his life on track. I missed him. We were back together. After a brief period of elation, his demands began. Apparently, he hadn’t been thinking about how to make himself healthier in the relationship. He’d only been thinking about what I could do for him. I realized that the focus of the relationship had switched over to being all about him. Or maybe it had always been about him. What about me?

As women, we are socialized to learn how to give. Some women temperamentally lean that way also. It comes naturally to me. Listening to friends’ problems, helping them out in small ways, making food, and caring for children and animals are things I do on a regular basis. When I get so busy doing for others that I forget myself, I feel purposeful and that feels good. I generally assume that others are the same way. But that’s a false assumption. It doesn’t feel good when no one is looking out for me – not even me.

I’ve been learning a lot of Mishna in my studies. The Mishna is an ancient Jewish text of law and tradition. In one chapter there’s a quote from the well-known Rabbi Hillel. A key figure in ancient Jewish history, he says: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” I’ve heard this saying before, but never before did it ring so true.

Some friends of mine invited me to a festive gathering on the eighth night of Chanukah. I’ve spent a lot of time with their family over the four years that I’ve known them. One of their boys is seven years old. This year he went to his room and came out with a gift for me. He presented it to me with a big smile. It was a simple gold-colored ring, from a vending machine most likely. It fits perfectly on my ring finger. I’m wearing it right now.

Isn’t it ridiculous that what a grown man couldn’t do for me, this child did? I was surprised and amused and delighted to receive this small but beautiful ring. Seeing it on my finger made me remember that I am loved. Not only that, it reminds me to love myself.

About the Author:

Scarlet Michaelson wrote the "Scarlet Says" column between 2017 and 2020,